Nasa / Space

"What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again!"

Dr. Strangeswag, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the freebies.

One of the fastest ways to get a Geek of any sort, or almost anyone, really, to look up is something that has become near ubiquitous in our modern environment.  It has nothing to do with the OTHER ubiquitous things (you know what I'm talking about).  It's "Money for Nothing".  It's a "Free Ride".  It can be anything from "99 Red Balloons" to a "Pink Cadillac".  I'm talking, of course, about swag.

When I worked at NASA, they gave us swag (I have a coin made partially from metal that had flown on a Shuttle-Mir mission, for example, given to me gratis; I don't think "Major Tom" was involved, though).  When I went to a conference on Supercomputing a few years ago, when I was the point man on our Supercomputing Center, I was inundated with T-Shirts, demos, magnets, CRT screen cleaners, keychains, pens, folding coat hangers, pocket guides, whitepapers, Configuration Management tools, etc.

When my wife started her business, she was inundated with free pens, USB fans, USB hubs, retracting network cords, T-shirts, popcorn, "You ain't nothing but a hound dog" food, cat toys, a laptop bag, software, magnets, large paperclips, posters, a scarf, and tickets to movies or dining.

Some come with strings (dining, you need to sit through a business meeting).  Some come with no strings (a polo shirt I once won at a conference, a large nautical clock for when I'm "Sitting on the Dock by the Bay", a Pets.Com mousepad).  Some were "With Love from Me to You" items, such as a bottle of shampoo.

On one website I frequent following my favorite football team, The Redskin Report, the give-away is a team jersey for a contest winner.  I'll make no bones about lusting after an Art Monk or Darrel Green Jersey, but I came in fifth.

There's even free "Money" from PayPal when you sign up.  It's "Pennies from Heaven"!

And (to get totally geeky), I won a Star Wars Action Figure Set complete with the stand set back in 1978; I see those are highly prized collectables today.

I don't believe I could LIVE off Swag and Freebies (anyone crazy enough to try it for a month, document it, and put it on You-Tube?  I'll send you a free sample of Instant Ramen when you finish!), though I did see that the local grocery store was giving out a "Free Bird" before Christmas to good customers, but I think you might need to have purchased a bunch of "American Pie"s.

Of course, there are times when we miss out on the Swag.  I won a car (honest to God, a Chrysler Convertible, from Coca-Cola, late 1980s) that I didn't realize I'd won until two days after the time to claim it.

I "won" one of the Free Computers that were being given out (loaded with Adware) back during the heyday of the Bubble; I didn't see the message until my invite expired.  Two months later, when the company went out of business, everyone was allowed to keep the machine, which would have been a great score.

I "won" a 5 gallon bottle of Jack Daniels once (giant thing).  Too bad I was 12 at the time, my father enjoyed it.  I got $5.

Free Surgery!  Free Meds!  Free Food!  Free Shampoo!  Free.... Free...... Free..... Samples....  you name it, you can get it free (and yes, even the stuff we AREN'T talking about, from that first paragraph).  If you play your cards right (or rather, a red paperclip) you can even get a free "Love Shack".

Heck, in full disclosure mode, Jay even mentioned something real vague about Tech Republic Coffee mugs being a distant possibility (I believe he mentioned something about it being "In the year 2525") for those who helped with the Geekend... not that I'm asking (have enough, and Rebecca's the Coffee Guru in our family), just showing how the promise of swag sets every heart aflutter.  But if I never get it "My Heart will go on".

And with that last bad pun, I ask you this:  What is the best (and WORST) Swag you've ever gotten, where did you get it from, and do they still have some?  Ok, strike the last... but what's the best and worst swag you've gotten?  Oh, and did the constant song titles make this post easier or harder to read?  And did I miss any?  Please comment and let me know!

27 comments
Xenarulz
Xenarulz

Well, I wish I got so many (and geeky) things as you did!! I was too young when the bubble happened, so I missed the Good Rich Days. Nowadays over here (in Italy) we get pens, mind you, non USB ones but the ones for writing, calendars, baseball caps and mouse pads. Period. I dream of free USB fans and similar goodies! So if you have excess useless goodies, send them my way! And I'm not kidding! Count your blessings, boys!

darinhamer
darinhamer

I went to a conference in Vegas last year. Entered to win a Blackberry and did win. I use it every day. For those companies using swag to promote your materials, you might think about how effective what you're giving is if all anyone is going to do with it is give it to their kids when they get home. Some stuff never sees the light of day. Oh, and fake poker chips with your company's name on it--really bad. They are completely useless and I won't even give those to my kids. Perhaps the trash man will find it and buy your storage area network or server virtualization products.

jdclyde
jdclyde

The single coolest was Pistons Basketball tickets that I got as a door prize. Sure, I love the cool pens I get at the expo's, and even got an iPod Shuffle as a door prize at another demo. I was not even going to go, but my co-workers talked me into it. So it WOULD have gone to my coworker, and she promised she will NEVER invite me to another show again! Oh yeah, some tech site sent me a polo shirt with their logo on it. Some of you might have heard of it, called TechRepublic? Kind of an obscure site, but they will have a good article here or there, and some random sillyness thrown in for good measure. B-) Nope, no mug though. But do I ever look good in that shirt! :D

michael.tindall
michael.tindall

I once got an 8 inch high figure of Emperor Palentine (complete with a glow-in-the-dark-Side-of the-Force hand) at a convention...but my favorite swag (lame as this sounds...) or those little cubes of paper, bound on one side, for taking phone notes. They can't ordered, and I use them EXTENSIVELY to keep organized when the phone is ringing and the voice mail is blinking...My whole division knows to grab them and forward them to me when they see them at conferences.

fanchant
fanchant

The president of a company I once worked for got a full bore copy of Office 2003 with all bells and whistles for free. Being so non-geek as to be almost anti-geek, he casually handed it to me and said "Want this?"

fixitsteve
fixitsteve

Recently, my daughter is really enjoying her Mini LED Lavalamp that she got from my last trip. I think it is a current Emulex givaway. IPODs are way too popular. I have given away a few Nanos, as I have one already personally. The worst are the stuffed animals. Netapp was giving away small stuffed lambs. Sacraficial? Oh well...again, my daughter loves it (cut the logo off of it immediately).

jedinc
jedinc

In the 1960's a BC Comic strip defined the ACRONYM SWAG as Scientific Wild Ass Guess - Over the years I have seen some SWAGS solve some wierd problems.

dawgit
dawgit

all problems were solved ?:| There actuall some truth to that anyway, it's not really guessing, it's what the mind knows, when reason is bi-passed. (we are taught limits, and not always the possibilities) -d (edited because, obviously I wasn't taught speel'n)

firstaborean
firstaborean

The worst thing I've gotten? Let's see... How about a worthless medallion from an auto seat-cover place, many decades ago? The best? A complete desktop computer, nearly eleven years ago. How about a "$1000 Shopping Spree" from Microsoft, back in 1989? A Texas Instruments scientific calculator came out of one of those two trade shows I used to attend regularly. I don't remember whether it was NEPCON or WESCON. I've gotten from those shows countless pens, a laser pointer, and a top-of-the-line heat gun, not to mention product samples galore and several of those ubiquitous T-shirts. I got a USB flash memory from my natural-gas utility, back in 2001. And on and on it goes. Life was good when I was doing electronics engineering (circuit design and ATE design). These days, the stuff doesn't come so quickly, but last September I got a $10 Blockbuster Gift Card from Hewlett Packard. I don't know if I'll ever use it, but I did win a DVD player, close to a year ago, in a real-estate promotion. Why buy 'em, if you can win 'em? Oh, yes, one more thing. For many years, I've gotten lots of firewood for free, and I use firewood to heat my home. This year, it was eucalyptus; a few years ago, it was oak. All I have to do, each year, is split it, and I like doing that for exercise.

JamesRL
JamesRL

One of our networking gurus goes to a number of advanced Cisco courses. He has an Xbox, Gamecube and PS2 from them. Time to take more courses I guess. I once worked at a printing show, showing how Macs could do colour editing and colour separations. The show had a number of printing presses churning out sample posters of the highest quality. All of the output was free for the taking, the only catch was that it still had the colour bars and alignment targets - snip them off and you have some very nice prints - cars, scenery, the works. James

laurag4321
laurag4321

I used to give away swag for a living, and the best I ever gave away was a car. Actually, I gave away TWO cars. One was a Mini Cooper; the other, a New VW Beetle. But I gave away pocket PCs, laptops, printers, digital cameras, gift certificates of various amounts up to $500, and all the usual trinkets and trash. I learned one very important thing: It's more fun to receive swag than to give it away.

turbinepilot
turbinepilot

I've been enjoying my video iPod every workday since winning it as one of the door prizes at a week-long convention sponsored by a major storage vendor.

JMIRTC
JMIRTC

I have been an IT Manager for almost a year and still yet to get anything. What am I doing wrong :(

Ashby
Ashby

If you are missing out, make sure you meet regularly with Hardware and Software vendors and attend their product launch seminars. Alternatively, look out for the National Incentive Show at the NEC, Birmingham, UK, an exhibition for the producers of all this stuff - free samples of almost everything!

rclark
rclark

That would be the place to be to get swag. Unfortunately, the airline ticket would make it a little cost prohibitive for me.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The best was a weekend in Charleston, SC, door prize at a teacher conference. Nice place, but all it's really got going for it is the market. Second best was a leatherette portfolio (also a door prize). It holds a standard letter-size pad, has a solar calculator inside the cover and a business card slot and three loose paper pockets behind the calculator. It's 5 years old now and goes everywhere I do. It also serves as an excellent wrist rest. Did attend a national skills conference once and got some great swag there: t-shirts, books, media, etc., but nothing held up to the portfolio. The worst? As a teacher, I attended multiple "Technology In Education" conferences and got lots of pencils. Not software, not shirts, not mugs, not media cases, not even paper clips. Pencils. What is it about companies that deal with educators that they only give pencils?

dawgit
dawgit

the education field. ;\ You're right about Charleston, the Market place was about all there is. I did find a little mini-brew place, good food, and nice lookers. B-) But I had the wanaB-x with me, and had to put up with remarks like "You haven't changed". (Answer = "Nope, never will".) Anyway I was there for my son's wedding. (Good kid too. now a Good Man, I might add.) Personally, outside of the wedding, I'd rather been out playing with the gators. I can handle them better than the in(out)laws. :p -d edited to remove somthing that would get me out of trouble :^0 -d

Bill Ward
Bill Ward

Sorry for those who read it too early.... I realized I HAD missed something that needed to be added, in the disclosures. Of course, now I can't get "In the year 2525" out of my head, so it's my own punishment.

becca
becca

Gosh, there have been so many. One of the ones that really came in handy was a soft bladed USB fan. I carried it with my laptop to Boy Scout summer camp two summers ago. With no A/C anywhere, it made my job if updating the Boy Scout website remotely a more comfortable venture than waiting for a "Summer Breeze" to make me feel fine. I haven't used it much since, but haven't needed to either. The other swag I use most are the drink bottles I have gotten. Intended to entice me to purchase these translucent bottles with "sports" lids, all they have done is make is less likely I will spill stuff on my keyboard. The "Peaceful Easy Feeling" I get knowing that the phone cord won't knock over my drink is well worth reading their small advertising markings on the bottle.

maldain
maldain

I went to the International Oracle User's Group conference in Honolulu a few years back. Everybody was given a day pack, an organizer, pen and for some reason one of those little swiss army knives with tweezers and a tooth pick.

dlrooky
dlrooky

I have been to many of the usual conferences, dog and pony shows, etc. and received the same swag everyone else does, but I still find it amusing that each year there appears to be a theme. One year everyone (almost) was giving away the pocket screwdrivers, one year it was logoed squirt guns (not a real good idea in an exhibit hall filled with electronics), one year it was mini-frisbees or floppy disk shaped letter openers, etc.

half
half

I am still involved in mechanical engineering and most goodies come in the form of jackets, caps,t shirts and the odd tool. As far as I.T stuff goes, the best I have got so far is a xp Winstress cd, but caps and pads and pens are the norm

GSG
GSG

I work in health care. Stark Laws prohibit me from accepting anything worth more that $5. On guy in our dept got a laptop. He had to donate it to the hospital. Another person got 4 world series tickets. They were donated to the hospital to be raffled off in a charity event to other employees.

rclark
rclark

Mostly we get swag at conferences. I'm in software development, so the addin vendors go all out. Especially at HIMSS. But most of our tech meetings have door prizes. Usually T-Shirts or Branded Drink bottles or software. Over the years I couldn't count the number of shirts, caps, pens, mechanical pencils, etc I've gotten. The longest lasting I have ever recieved is a robotic calendar calculator from National Institutes of Health. I got that for front linking to them. I'm in Healthcare so it was a win/win but I was the first, so they gave me this clock/calculator. The thing has been on my desk for about 8 years. Don't use it as a calculator much, but the calendar function works great and it is a clock too. But the neat thing about it is it folds up into a little box about the size of a postit note pad. When you punch the release button, it slowly unfolds (spring loaded I think), and eventually 10 seconds or so later, is in display mode. Cutesy, but also very functional. What I want to know is where they got batteries that last that long. Gotta be energizers or something. Another favorite of mine to recieve is the thumb drives with demo software loaded. I usually get two or three a conference. I take them home and burn the demo software off on a CD then clear the drive. Then I have a throw away thumb drive. Most of them are small, but most of the time you don't need a lot of capacity on them. The weirdest was a book from IBM. The title was reasons to do something or other. The book was just like any tech book you would find on a techy shelf. But inside was about 300 blank pages. I'm still debating with myself on wether to cut out the center and use it as a hideaway, or let my artsy daughter cover it in craft paper and use it as a journal. My all time favorite is a black ink pen that has a laser pointer in the cap. Batteries for that don't last long, but I'm never without a pointer in meetings. As for the day to day most useful. McKesson just presented and the swag was a jell ink pen. Man are those great. The pens are very easy to write with and it's really dark ink. Have to be careful not to smear it until it dries, but they are great pens.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Well in the last 22 years...here is what stands out. In the 80s I was working at a small consulting firm which also sold hardware and software to its clients, and I was the buyer. I went to many events. The most swag for one event was for the launch of a new version of Ashton Tate's Applause. It was an evening event with a not too bad dinner, big presentation. On the way out we got: a full retail copy of the software (about $300) which was bundled with a Microsoft Mouse (again full retail version), and a nice logoed hooded white sweatshirt. At another presentation that was using an Indiana Jones theme I won a whip and a leather fanny pack. I was hoping for the leather jacket or the hat though :(. When I worked for a Fortune 100 company I gathered lots of swag. Our main HW vendor gave us monthly update lunches and we got baseball tickets(when the Jays were winning), shirts, software and occasionally something more. Most of the big enterpise wide projects there had shirts made up, I swear somedirectors wore nothing but project polo shirts. When I worked for a courier company , I learned what valuable swag really was. At couriers some packages become separated from their labels and are sent to central warehouse to be catalogued. If no one claims them (and sometimes if they have already claimed the insurance on them the originator doesn't want them back) after a certain time the company owns them. Usually they are auctioned off, but sometimes they dip into them for prizes for golf tourneys and Christmas presents. I got a cell phone back when they were $300, and for Christmas I got a $400 pair of skiis. I got nice swag at a Gartner conference, but getting a nice bag when you pay $3000 for a conference diminishes the feeling somewhat. I do use the retractable phone cord for my laptop (when i have to resort to dialup - increasingly rare)and the mini screwdrivers. I've got a Tech Republic Mug. I've got Oracle, Apple, Ashton Tate, Sybase mugs - I think I've broken more. I still have a lot of old swag T shirts that I now use for rags. You don't see as much SWAG anymore. James

The Admiral
The Admiral

I am on my way to scout camp this year in 100 degree heat and the need of a fan. Any one got an idea in how to make a solar powered fan?

JamesRL
JamesRL

Get one of those hand fans powered by AA batteries - they are cheap - my wife uses them at camp all the time. Then get a solar powered battery charger. Voila. James

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